“You shouldn’t feel that way!”

One of the underlying factors that opened my eyes to the link between legalism and narcissism was the constant attempt to change the way we felt.  It seemed important for our emotions to be controlled.  We learned about conquering anger.  Sensual desire was always evil.  Almost any kind of desire was to be rejected.  Any desire for change was seen as motivated by sin.

So, we were often told, “Don’t feel that way.”  If something happened and we were sad, we were somehow wrong to feel sadness.  If something happened to make us angry, we were wrong to feel anger.  We were supposed to feel according to an approved formula or we were rejected.

Why is this manipulation of feelings so important in legalism?  There may be several reasons.

  • Legalism rejects differences.  Any system is based on conformity.  Formulas and mathematics are the core of systematic thinking.  Legalism teaches a cause and effect theology.  If you do this, you will get this.  If you do that, you will get that.  If each individual has his or her own thoughts and feelings, the system doesn’t work.  So we were taught to think of groups, rather than individuals.  Spiritual gifts were limited in number and people were lumped into groups.  There were prophets who responded to situations a certain way and exhorters who responded differently.  There were several groups, but no individuals.  No differences that could not be fit into the system.
  • Legalism requires control.  For the system to work, each part must do its job and not cause problems.  Free or uncontrolled thinking is dangerous.  Legalism must put boundaries and fences around thinking and feeling.  If two or twenty people respond to some situation in different ways, the system can be adjusted and defined to account for the differences and control them.  But if hundreds or thousands or millions respond differently, the system would be impossible to implement.
  • Legalism rejects the person.  Perhaps the strongest link between legalism and narcissism is depersonalization.  You and I don’t really matter in the legalist system.  We are part of the number, part of the group, but not much more.  The system is what is important, not you and me.  Because the person is rejected, all kinds of cruelty can be inflicted.  In the name of the system, people have been rejected and abused.
  • Legalism rewires the mind.  In order to welcome all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds, the legalist system must change the thinking and feeling of a person.  There is no order in the variety of perspectives found around the world.  There is one way to worship, one way to dress, one way to talk—the right way.  Anything outside of that way has to be eliminated and replaced with better thinking.  Feelings come out of thinking and must conform as well.

So your feelings must conform or you will be rejected.  “Don’t feel that way.  Feel this way.”  Never mind what is happening in your own heart.

But the effect of this manipulation and control, the effect of legalism, was the loss of self.


Your thoughts?


Filed under Legalism, Narcissism

3 responses to ““You shouldn’t feel that way!”

  1. And the irony (for legalism) is that the loss of self is a sickness. It makes communities sick, not strong. I have been critisized recently for practicing yoga. I have been accused of focusing too much on my “self” and that I should focus on my relationship with Jesus Christ. I mentioned that I can’t even begin a relationship with Jesus Christ until I understand and am comfortable with my self, otherwise, I’m just replacing my addictions with Christianity. I am not a Christian, but I respect my friends and family members who are. It works for them. But if they want me to become a Christian or at least be more open to it, shouldn’t my desire to understand my self be respected? How can we have healthy relationships with ANYONE without a healthy understanding of ourselves, first? My narcissistic X took my self from me. I was lost. AA almost sucked me in when I was vulnerable. I’m not going to be sucked in by religion when I’m weak because it’s no different than allowing my narcissistic X control me. Doesn’t Jesus Christ need me to know my self in order to know and respect Christianity?

    • Kelly

      I did not begin to understand my Christian life until I learned to love myself first. Jesus said in Scripture “Love your neighbor as yourself”. You have to love you in order to love anyone else. That is why the NPD is so toxic….he/she does not love self…they have formed an alter personality to operate out of. They actually hate their true self because it seems weak, hurt, damaged, abused, helpless etc. I agree with Paula that swaping addictions is futile. I had to start over and get foundations right. Those foundations were not a religious system, seminar, methods etc. It was as simple as Jesus loves me this I know…..child like faith and trust. Legalism almost cost me ever stepping foot in a church again. Praise God I am in a grace-filled solid biblical church now that emphasizes love and truth together. I am about as healthy as I have ever been spiritually and emotionally and it’s because I don’t follow systems. Christianity is not an organization it is an organism and organisms are living, breathing, free creatures.

    • I plan to continue this theme for a while so I will be visiting some of the things you note, but I can say without hesitation that any presentation of the Christian message that denies the value of who you are is a perversion of the true message. Even the simplest song – Jesus loves me, this I know – is based on two truths: Jesus knows me as an individual and He cares.

      A system is attractive for many people because it is orderly, predictable, and can be manipulated. A relationship, however, is messy and uncontrollable. I believe that Jesus has invited us to a relationship. So sad that the church seems to have forgotten the real message! This error has caused many to reject the faith without ever having known it. What they reject is the system and all of its faults. They have never met the Person.

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